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During halftime of Sunday's NFC Championship Game, Fox Sports and the NFL announced a partnership to broadcast NFL Europe League regular-season games beginning this season. The deal, which is in place for the '99 and 2000 seasons, includes the national broadcast on Fox of one NFLEL game on each of the league's final three Sundays, June 6, 13 and 20, and the broadcast of the '99 World Bowl on June 27. FSN will also air one game-of-the-week beginning April 17 (NFL). BUT ARE AFFILS HAPPY? News of the additional weekend sports programming comes as MEDIAWEEK's Freeman & Consoli write that Fox's reclaiming of weekend time "has raised concerns" among some affils over loss of spot inventory and contractual conflicts with syndicators. Fox's recent pickup of some NTRA races and two women's pro tennis events, along with the NFLEL, has "several" Fox station execs saying "the network's ever-expanding sports slate may be a source of contention" at next week's affils meeting in New Orleans. Fox Sports Senior VP/Media Relations Vince Wladika: "Our affiliates have to realize that they are part of a network, and that live network sports programming has [increased] the value of their stations immensely" (MEDIAWEEK, 1/18 issue).
"Fox Sports News"' Keith Olbermann commented on the "Esquire" article by Charles Pierce claiming former Dodger Kirk Gibson took steroids before his historic home-run during the '88 World Series. Olbermann noted that Gibson received a cortisone shot, which is "not an anabolic, illegal, banned, growth or performance-enhancing steroid." Olbermann: "It's just so unfair to drag Gibson into, and through, [controversy] merely because -- technically -- cortisone is a steroid" ("FSN," 1/19)....The Padres have reached a five-year agreement with flagship station KURS-AM to allow the Spanish-language network to broadcast games in much of Baja California (S.D. UNION-TRIBUNE, 1/16)....In Miami, Barry Jackson reviewed the year in the NFL and wrote that CBS's AFC telecasts "were not awful or offensive" but "simply did not measure up to NBC's" (MIAMI HERALD, 1/18). ...ABC's lockout of 2,400 NABET employees ended Friday (Mult., 1/16)....In N.Y., George Vecsey wrote that ESPN's "SportsCentury" series on the best North American athletes in the past century "will keep people talking for the entire year." He added that ESPN "put on its journalistic hat" and "did its homework" as the series "seems legitimately rooted in history, by adults, for adults" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/17).
Nielsen ratings for the NFL Conference Championships were "about even" with last year, according to USA TODAY's Rudy Martzke. Fox's earned a 26.2 Nielsen overnight for the Falcons-Vikings, similar to last year's 26.1 rating for the Broncos-Steelers on NBC in the same time slot. CBS's 27.3 Nielsen overnight for the Jets-Broncos was down 1% from Fox's 27.7 for the Packers-49ers in the late time slot last year (USA TODAY, 1/19). The Jets-Broncos earned a 30.0/52 in the N.Y market, while the game earned a 54.4 rating in Denver. The Falcons-Vikings earned a 50.6 rating in Atlanta and a 47.7 in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Denver and Minneapolis both had viewer shares topping 80% (Richard Sandomir, N.Y. TIMES, 1/19). NEWSDAY's Steve Zipay notes that "The NFL Today" on CBS took a "major hit" from the overtime Falcons- Vikings game, as the show earned a "paltry" 2.6/5, compared to a 9.4/24 last year (NEWSDAY, 1/19). In Detroit, Steve Crowe wrote that the NFL gave CBS permission for a 12-minute start delay with the NFC game in OT (FREE PRESS, 1/18). SUPER LINEUP OF TEAMS? DAILY VARIETY's Richard Morgan writes that this year's Super Bowl advertisers "have reason to be content" with the contestants, as the game features the U.S.'s 10th-largest market against its 18th-largest market. Fox Sports Senior VP/Media Relations Vince Wladika: "We got returning champions in Denver. And Atlanta's going to deliver the entire Southeast" (VARIETY, 1/19).
MA-based ThingWorld.com is joining with the NFL to "deploy its digital collectibles technology on all on-line venues of the league and its teams," according to Gregg Krupa of the BOSTON GLOBE. The relationship allows the NFL to "create protected interactive content" that can be downloaded by computer users. The two companies will "comanufacture and comarket" NFL branded materials, including interactive games and icons. The league, which is expected to use the on-line service to sell collectibles, currently sells less than 1% of its projected $3B annual license-product market on-line. Deal details are expected to be announced today (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/19). MORE WEB INVESTMENTS: The SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's John Rofe reports that Pistons Owner William Davidson and two other individuals invested a total of $5M into CA-based Praja Inc., which produces interactive highlight videos and stat package for NCAA Div. I football team Web sites. Praja hopes to use the "infusion" to expand into the NFL, MLB, NBA or MLS (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 1/18 issue).